Slager might face civil rights charges

Former North Charleston Police officer Michael Slager talks with his attorney, Andy Savage, before a hearing in front of Judge Clifton Newman in Charleston on Jan. 4.

A federal grand jury is meeting this week to consider civil rights charges against former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager, multiple sources close to the investigation told The Post and Courier.

North Charleston Police Department officers have been subpoenaed to testify, the sources said. The grand jury subpoenas witnesses and hears evidence presented by federal prosecutors to decide if someone should be charged with a serious crime.

The white officer fatally shot Walter Scott, who is black, on April 4, 2015. A video of the killing led to his arrest on a state murder charge.

Authorities first revealed publicly during a December state court hearing that Slager also was the target of an FBI probe. But confirmation this week that the grand jury has started to hear testimony marks significant progress in the investigation.

When the grand jurors would reach a finding was not known. They could decide to indict Slager by issuing a “true bill” or vote to refuse to file federal charges.

The civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington is leading the investigation.

Dena Iverson, a division spokeswoman, told The Post and Courier this week that “the department declines to comment, as it can neither confirm nor deny the existence of any grand jury.”

Charleston attorney Andy Savage, who represents Slager in the state proceeding, said Thursday that he did not know enough about the Justice Department’s intentions to comment.

The police have said that Slager used his stun gun to stop Scott, who had run from a traffic stop. Slager and Scott wound up fighting. Savage has said that Scott had the upper hand.

But after Scott separated himself and again started running, Slager fatally shot him in the back. A video of the shooting later surfaced and the officer was jailed.

Slager was indicted on the murder charge in state court, allowing the case to proceed toward a trial that is now scheduled for Oct. 31.

Federal investigations typically work differently. In many cases, the FBI and prosecutors will work to gather evidence and present the information to a grand jury before making an arrest.

Allegations of excessive force by police officers are usually prosecuted under the federal “Deprivation of Rights Under Color of Law” statute. The crime carries no minimum prison term. But when death results, the maximum sentence is life. In rare cases the death penalty can be sought.

Trying Slager in both federal and state court would not be considered double jeopardy because the crimes alleged against him would be different.

Emma Dumain contributed to this report.